Accounting for campus growth, achieve carbon neutrality by 2046 — Princeton’s 300th anniversary — through the use of repeatable, scalable and innovative solutions.
Campus emissions (metric tons CO2 x 1000)
- Current Performance
- Future Targets
Global Context, Local Action
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, humanity now experiences the consequences of 1°C of average planetary warming, including rising sea levels and more extreme weather. While climate change affects all of the planet’s populations, those in developing countries and disadvantaged populations in all countries are even more vulnerable to climate impacts. Changes in human behavior at all scales are required to prevent the predicted catastrophic consequences of more than 1.5°C warming.1
Between 2005 and 2014, college campuses in the U.S. reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6 percent, with many institutions in the coastal Northeast region averaging a reduction of more than 16 percent.2 Princeton is also demonstrating significant reductions in emissions over time.
Short and Long Term Objectives
Princeton’s new target is to reach net zero campus greenhouse gas emissions — reducing both direct emissions from on-site energy production and fleet fuel use, and indirect emissions from purchased electricity — by 2046 or sooner. As part of the broader need to influence indirect emissions sources, we are also initiating focused studies of construction materials procurement strategies.
Our pathway to carbon neutrality relies not only on infrastructure and other systemic changes, but also community and individual behaviors and habits. As such, initiatives are underway to engage campus community members who have influence in high energy-using environments, such as laboratories and large event spaces.
Princeton’s Progress To Date
Since 2008, Princeton’s efforts have resulted in a strong trend of reduced emissions. After adding more than 3 million gross square feet of built space since 1990, the University has achieved significant absolute reductions from its 2008 baseline, with no market offset purchases. As of summer 2022, emissions remain below pre-COVID levels even though the campus is fully open, and even though air exchange rates in buildings are still elevated above pre-COVID levels. The energy infrastructure conversions underway on campus today continue to set the stage for carbon neutrality (nearly fossil-free campus operations) by 2046 or sooner.
Foundational to this progress includes “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Decision-Making Criteria” developed by a Presidentially-appointed and faculty-led CO2 Task Force in 2015, improved central plant efficiencies, installation of campus-wide ground source heat pump (geoexchange) systems, renewal of investments in existing building energy-efficiency improvements with a collective ten-year-or-less payback, installation of on-site solar PV systems providing almost 20 percent of campus electricity demand, and investigation of off-site renewable electricity options.
Princeton has also initiated a study to inform the integration of healthier materials and embodied carbon accounting strategies acrosscapital projects.
Annual Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Campus Square Footage
In 2015, the University’s faculty-led CO2 Task Force recommended the following criteria to guide greenhouse gas reduction decisions. Since then, these criteria have been integrated with campus and infrastructure master planning, as well as operational planning.
- Establish a clear pathway to carbon emissions neutrality by 2046 (Princeton’s 300th anniversary).
- Adopt a self-imposed greenhouse gas emissions budget of approximately 1,750,000 tons of CO2e, representing the total net emissions that are allowed from on-campus (scope 1 and 2) operations from now into the indefinite future.
- Greenhouse gases have a cumulative impact on climate and we recommend against postponing reductions due to the expectation of new future technologies. Steady reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2046 should occur, though the actual reduction curve may not be linear.
- By 2046 obtain carbon neutrality in a scalable fashion that is compatible with a dramatic nation-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In future campus development, all projects should answer the question, “Will today’s decision facilitate a movement towards the objective of nationwide decarbonization?”
- Princeton’s current policy is to reduce on-campus emissions without the purchase of offsets of any kind. Maintain the rationale that paying others so we can continue to pollute is not an effective global solution to climate change. However, if necessary to reach carbon neutrality, off-campus initiatives which reduce emissions may be allowable as long as they are additional to anything already in place, are independently verifiable, and ultimately will contribute to a globally scalable greenhouse gas mitigation strategy. Consideration of netnegative carbon emissions technologies is possible.
- Adopt both technical and behavioral solutions to achieve greenhouse gas emission neutrality.
- Strive to coordinate academic research and teaching with carbon neutrality goals, including using the campus as a laboratory for new technologies and approaches. Initiatives to help spur innovation and leverage the University’s research prowess, educational mission and student/alumni network could lead to important breakthroughs.
- Facilitate replication of successful greenhouse gas mitigation approaches. Communication of Princeton’s initiatives to students, alumni and the public should be emphasized.
Campus Action Items
- Convert from natural gas-fueled campus steam production to a heating hot water system with geoexchange wells and heat pumps.
- Renew allocation of $50 million in energy-efficiency improvements for existing buildings.
- Expand solar power generation on campus, and evaluate off-campus renewable electricity options that meet our decision-making criteria.
- Track and reduce key indirect greenhouse gas emissions sources (Scope 3 emissions).
- Investigate long-term fuel alternatives that verifiably contribute to a fossil-free future.
- Re-evaluate our greenhouse gas emissions inventory (Scope 1 and 2) to assure that all significant sources of campus-based emissions are included.
- Align effective practices to reduce indirect and direct greenhouse gas emissions across campus through coordinated departmental action plans.
- Advance evidence-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction solutions by continuing to actively engage students and faculty to serve on advisory committees and by supporting campus-as-lab research endeavors.
- Reinforce Princeton’s climate action objectives during key programs, including but not limited to orientation for all students, faculty and staff; campus tours; Princeton Preview for undergraduates; visiting weekends for graduate students; residential life and campus dining; athletics; Reunions and other events.
- Apply behavioral science approaches to promote widespread adoption of mindful energy-use behaviors, through programs, building design and other methods.
- Scale action beyond Princeton through partnerships, such as the International District Energy Association and the Microgrid Resources Coalition, which was co-founded with multiple partners by Princeton’s Facilities’ Engineering and Campus Energy department.
Find ways you can take action on campus.
Anticipated CO2e Reduction Strategies
Reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions to 73,000 metric tons CO2e irrespective of growth and without the purchase of market offsets.
Net zero campus greenhouse gas emissions per year.